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Krzysztof Cygan
Speleoklub "Bobry" Zagan

Vietnam is a beautiful country plagued with wars and occupations by various nations. A closed country of unexplored spots. The Vietnamese karst may be divided into the northern, central and southern ones. The idea of the expedition came by chance. The long planned expedition to Peru terminated in failure before it began. Civil war and fighting with the drug cartel have discouraged us finally. It was in this situation when Bernard Koisar proposed, partly joking, Vietnam, namely because he was not there yet.

The team with Vietnamese friends
The team with Vietnamese friends, photo by A. Zyworonek

For me this meant the fulfilment of my dreams. In a few weeks we found out that activity of cavers in that country is practically nil, and this strengthened our determination to organize the expedition. A group of seven left to Saigon by plain in January 1989. For seven days we were looking for contacts in the south of the country. The lack of anybody who could direct us to caves turned our attention to the north. In Hanoi, we contacted the Institute of Geology, where we finally found assistance that permitted us to begin exploration in Vietnam. The Vietnamese have indicated us the area about which they had various expectancies, both economic and military. Kim Bai - a karst area situated west of Hanoi. The locals call it Dry Ha Long, because this area resembles so much the Ha Long Bay. The reason is mogotes, which extend over the area of many kilometers. The mountains and conical hills rise up to several hundred metres high and are surrounded by poljes in which the Vietnamese are growing rise. We started exploring with a great verve. Equipped with ropes and dinghies we penetrated the area, in many places covered with jungle, for fourteen days. The caves we found were mostly horizontal and several hundred metres long, often with water, sometimes with streams. In one of the discovered caves the water was about 40 m deep. Our activity resulted in seven surveyed caves. The survey, passed to the Vietnamese partners, saved five years of their scheduled work. Before coming back home we sketched a plan of a future joint work. We were interested in the karst area situated northwest of Hanoi, at the altitude of some 2500 m, while our partners indicated the island Cat Ba in the Ha Long Bay as the main goal. Unfortunately, the difficult situation in Poland during the following years ruled our expeditions. In 1992, while being in Vietnam for business, I found some time to continue the talks with the Institute of Geology. I succeeded to talk Dr Pham Khang into a reconnaissance to the Ha Long Bay. The stay of several days in the country of a thousand isles gave me an idea of the exploration perspectives in the area. It is a coastal area, islands corroded by wind, rain and sea. The caves are mostly short, transfluent ones with modest speleothems. The caves offer possibilities of archaeological discoveries and they can be adapted for tourists. It should be added that for the Vietnamese any exploration of caves is justified only if its result may used for economic purposes. After having come back I decided to organize another expedition. In 1995, during an expedition to Austrian caves, a group of younger colleagues convinced me to speed up on these plans.

Tower karst in Vietnam
Tower karst in Vietnam, photo by A. Zyworonek

Despite many difficulties on the Vietnamese side, we managed to materialize the expedition. In March 1996 eight of us headed for Hanoi: Krzysztof Cygan, Daniel Oleksy, Robert Swiatek, Marcin Furtak, Stanislaw Pisarek, Marek Siarko, Adam Malachowski and Jerzy Zygmunt. We came by invitation of the Institute of Geology. Alas, the change in the political and economic status of our country changed the attitude of the Vietnamese to our activity. Oriented at profit, they no more mind the work we are doing for their Institute. This situation forced us to look for other contacts. We learnt from conversations with our colleague Dr Pham Khang that he is no more with the Institute, but as an employee of Ministry and Department of Environment Protection,
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